Decisions, Decisions

Fall is an extremely busy time of year for the spring calving cow herd with lots of decisions to be made. This article gives an outline of what factors you should consider when addressing the most critical decisions.

Cow and nursing calf on pasture

Figure 1. Fall is a good time to assess the calf crop and plan for the coming year.


The first decision is about marketing calves. When is the best time to market calves? There are a large number of factors that can affect calf price. With the current market, you can be confident that you will be well paid, but how do you maximize your profit? The market continues to reward those producers who have larger uniform groups of calves. There is also an advantage to those who market in conjunction with other producers that have similar calves so that a dealer or backgrounder or feedlot can buy all their calves at one time. Have you considered selling direct into a branded beef program that has complete traceability? Can you get some data back on ADG and carcass traits of your cattle relative to others?

With the price of calves, buyers will want to minimize health risks. Check with your veterinarian on the best vaccination program for your calves. Buyers generally prefer live vaccines. Consider selling weaned calves to eliminate that stress for the buyer. Fenceline weaning or using nose tags and keeping the calves outside with some creep feed will keep the bloom and hair coats on your calves.


With calves being worth such a high price, should you keep heifers as replacements to calve for the first time in 2 years, or are you farther ahead to purchase bred cows and/or heifers? That will depend on your breeding program and the availability of suitable females to go into your herd. There are always some producers who, for various reasons, are prepared to sell their cows and heifers. You just need to find them and realize there are several others who are looking as well. Do some calculations to determine what you can afford to pay for a good bred replacement based on your cost of production and compare that to your costs of keeping one of your heifer calves.

Culling Cows

Cull cows are also selling very well. Open cows cost you money, so pregnancy checking your cows is always a good management practice. Some veterinarians are now using ultrasound to preg check cows. Calves are worth a lot but a cull cow which will not be able to wean a good calf is not worth keeping. What about any cows whose calves you need to assist because of big teats or a low udder? What about those really late calving cows, will their light weight calves earn enough to justify the cow and has this cow been getting later each year?


Are you happy with the bulls you have now? Do they calve easily, produce growthy calves and do the daughters make good replacement females? Is your herd small enough that you only have one bull? If so, have you considered buying bulls with others and rotating them around such that bulls are not mated to daughters?

Doing some homework in the fall and having a list of candidates will save some time in bull buying season next fall. Find someone that you trust to either purchase a bull for you or at least assist you in the process. This should be someone who understands your goals and will match up a bull to suit your herd.


Have you tested your hay and other feeds for nutrients? Visit with a feed salesperson/nutritionist about the results to develop a feeding strategy and consider possible supplements such as mineral to optimize the performance of your cowherd.

There are lots of resources available on the web at the OMAFRA website ( as well as others to help you with your decisions.

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